Carol Shwanda chronicles her blended family's lives and experiences offering hope, guidance, wisdom, inspiration and humor to anyone who is in or about to enter into a blended family.
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Must Reads for Today’s Successful Blended Families
Published on February 9, 2011
For those of you not up to speed, there is a future rock star celebrity among us. His name is James Durbin and he makes his national television debut this evening on American Idol. He is one of the “rumored” top 40. We know James because he used to come to our house to jam with our ex-tenant Jonny Prynce (who moved to NYC last month). James is a great guy with a lot of talent. He has a fiance and a young baby and we all wish him much luck and success. He sure deserves it. As a mother, I also wish James to stay his grounded, wonderful self. I can’t help but wonder how his life is going to change. I just performed a Google search on his name and got the weirdest pop ups for “sexy pictures of James Durbin.” Oy. I just hope he is prepared for the onslaught of media attention he is sure to get. Good luck James.
Published on April 12, 2010
One of the many issues blended families and stepchildren have to deal with is the conflict over divided loyalties. Our family is no exception.
Last week I told you about our trip to San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara to look at colleges for Sophia. We had a blast. I took all three girls, my two daughters, Sophia and Eva, and my stepdaughter Cheryl. We planned the trip a few months ago and even went shopping for new outfits; shorts, swimsuits, etc. just for the occasion. What I did not plan for was that we were going to be gone for Easter. I had gotten the dates mixed up and thought Easter was the following week, which meant that I had actually planned the trip so that we would be gone for Easter.
A few days before we were to leave, Paul got a call from his ex-wife, Cheryl’s mother, saying that Cheryl had decided she did not want to go because she would much rather stay home and hang out with her friends. She also informed Paul that Cheryl was afraid to tell me herself for fear that I would be “mad at her”. Paul relayed the news to me, and I did not buy it for one second. Not want to go because you want to hang out with your friends??? Come on. I knew there was more to the story, but I didn’t want to put on any pressure for fear that I would be characterized as one who “gets mad at things”. So I said nothing, even though I was concerned that Cheryl would be missing out on a great opportunity to visit colleges and that she would regret it. Quite frankly, I was a little pissed. I told Paul, “You should encourage her to go. This is a great opportunity. Seeing these college campuses will inspire her.” But he resisted my prodding, which only exacerbated the problem further. Our differing parenting styles often clash. When it comes to kids (and just about anything), I believe in getting to the bottom of things. Paul does not. He thinks we should let things flow “organically”. “Don’t get involved and don’t imagine things,” he always tells me. So I kept my mouth shut and I didn’t say anything to Cheryl about not going.
The night before we were to leave Cheryl was sitting on the couch playing on her iPod and I asked her, “So, Cheryl, what are your plans for this weekend?” She replied, “I’m going on the trip with you.” This was news to me, but I did not let on. Instead I said, “Well let’s do your laundry and get you packed” While we were in the laundry room sorting through her clothes she admitted to me, ” I never not wanted to go. I just felt bad about being gone over Easter…” and her voice trailed off. I realized she felt guilty about leaving her parents. After all, I’m not her mother. She had divided loyalties.
I called Cheryl’s mother to tell her Cheryl had had a change of heart and decided to go. She was surprised. If she was disappointed she didn’t let on. She had Easter plans with Cheryl, but to her credit, she did not object and respected Cheryl’s decision to come with us on the trip. Cheryl and her mom celebrated Easter on Wednesday after we returned. Sometimes, that’s what you have to do in a blended family.
Published on December 21, 2009
I kept hoping this year’s Christmas would go off without a hitch. I really thought that we had finally worked out all the kinks. But no. There always seems to be something or someone who screws up the works.
As you might expect, blended family holidays, particularly Christmas, can be fraught with thwarted expectations and nostalgic remembrances of how things used to be when mom and dad were still married. Every family has its own traditions and blending them and finding a common ground is the hardest to do this time of year.
When I was a single mom my two girls always spent Christmas eve and woke up Christmas morning at my house. My ex would come over in time to watch them open their presents and we would all have breakfast and play with the new toys. There was no stress or drama and everyone was happy.
Things were a little different for Paul. When he was a single dad his kids spent Christmas eve at their mom’s and woke up Christmas morning at her house and he stayed at home alone. He didn’t get invited to go over to her house and he did not get to share in the joy of Christmas morning with his children. They would come to his house later in the afternoon, but it just wasn’t the same. Two years ago Paul decided he wanted this to change and told his ex he wanted his turn having the kids wake up Christmas morning with him. She was not happy about it, but went along with it when they decided they would alternate the holiday every year. I, in turn, made the same arrangement with my ex giving him his turn to have the kids on Christmas morning. (Are you keeping up? I know, it’s exhausting keeping track.)
This year was supposed to be our turn to have the kids wake up here on Christmas morning, but apparently Paul’s ex “forgot” and went ahead and make plans (without consulting us) to go out of town on Christmas day with her boyfriend so she has to have the kids on Christmas eve and Christmas morning. She promised that next year we could have the kids. We went along with her request seein’s how she was going to bring the kids over at 10am on Christmas morning anyway, but here’s the wrinkle. My kids are still waking up here with us and when they get up they want to go to the tree and open their presents right away. They don’t want to have to wait until 10am when Paul’s kids come over, which is what Cheryl is insisting that we do. She accused Sophia of being rude for not waiting for them to come over so they can open presents as a family. While I appreciate Cheryl’s logic, I don’t think she is looking at the big picture. When she wakes up at her mom’s is she going to have to wait to open her presents? No. She was very insistent and would not listen to reason. This made all three girls cry. Sophia resented being called rude as well as the demands dictating how she spend her Christmas morning. Eva, who is very self-sacrificing and is willing to wait until Paul’s kids came over, was upset that there was a conflict and said, “Why does everything have to be so hard?” My sentiments exactly. Why does it have to be so hard? I’m weary. I’m weary of having to constantly negotiate, mediate and compromise. Dealing with the kids is one thing, but having to also accomodate the demands of the ex-spouse is frustrating and exhausting.
I tried to smooth things over the best I could and promised my girls I would talk to Paul when he came home to explain the situation so he could reason with Cheryl. I also suggested a compromise, “How about you open just a few presents” but neither side would budge. When I told Paul the whole story he backed me up and said he would talk to Cheryl. (He hasn’t had a chance to do this yet because the kids went to their other parents’ on Friday.) Knowing this made my girls feel better. Still, I am dreading another confrontation. It makes me very sad. I hope we can get past this and still enjoy our Christmas.
In the meantime, I did try to get Sophia to put things in perspective. Waiting to have to open your presents is better than not having presents to open. And Cheryl’s demands that she wait are borne of her own need to feel included and to not be left out. After all, we are a family and families open their presents together. A conundrum that will take the wisdom of Solomon to solve. If you readers have any suggestions, thoughts or comments I would love to hear them.
Published on December 14, 2009
If you moms and stepmoms are looking for a great holiday gift for all the dads and stepdads in your life, I highly recommend a wonderfully hilarious and warm hearted book I just finished reading: The 40-Year-Old Version: Humoirs of a Divorced Dad by Joel Schwartzberg. It it a series of essays that are essentially slices of the life of a divorced dad with three children. When Joel asked me to review the book I was eager to see the subject of divorce and single parenting through a man’s perspective and I was surprised that in many instances it was not that different from my own. Like Joel, I too worried that I had the “divorced” label tattooed to my head when I dropped off and picked up my kids from school alone. And then there’s the dreaded back-to-school night. I could really identify with his experiences and I found myself routing for him as he rebuilt his life, forged stronger bonds with his three children, established new family traditions and eventually found love again with his second wife, Anne. Joel’s self-deprecating and insightful humor reminded me a lot of another of my favorite “dad” authors, Dave Barry, which only goes to show you that being divorced doesn’t stop you from being a great parent. Kudos to Joel Schwartzberg for not only penning a delightful book, but for being a terrific dad as well. To read more about Joel click here.
Published on November 5, 2009
Published on October 13, 2009
Being the celebrity gossip monger that I am, I couldn’t help but search the Internet for reasons why the Norman/Evert marriage didn’t work out. According to an article published in People magazine, the main reason was problems with the couple’s blended family of five children. Evert has three teenage sons with her ex, former Olympic skier Andy Mill (who was at one time Norman’s best friend) and Norman has two grown children in their 20′s. Norman’s kids never warmed up to their step mom and Norman is accused by Evert’s ex for coming between him and his sons.
Maybe this can be attributed to the fact that the kids are older and it’s harder for older kids to accept a new parent and blend as a family. Or the fact that they did not get to know each other very long before the wedding may have had something to do with it. OR, it could be because THE COUPLE NEVER ACTUALLY LIVED TOGETHER. They never set up house together. Norman and Evert each kept separate residences and had sleep overs. That, in my opinion, is a recipe for disaster because it does not signify a true commitment. I don’t care if it worked for Woody and Mia (and we all know how that turned out), nothing says commitment quite like joint bank accounts and joint mortgage payments. I’ll never forget (although I have tried) those first few months of us all living together in a still-under-construction-house with no heat and in some rooms, no walls; our belongings still in boxes, snuggling up with blankets and popcorn on lawn chairs in the family room to watch a movie. Now those were the days. Although it was a struggle and an adjustment for the kids, Paul and I as their parents sent a very clear message to them that we were committed, this was their new home and we are a family.
Published on October 9, 2009
October 9, 2009 (I’ve decided to start dating my posts.)
Sophia got a car. She had been saving her babysitting and birthday money for months, but she didn’t need to use any of it because her father bought the car for her. He told her she could keep her money to pay for gas and other expenses. She was thrilled. She drove herself to school the other day for the first time and stopped on the way home to get a burrito. What independence. She is enjoying her new found freedom, but not without a little bit of guilt and compassion for her step brother Mark, who is about to turn 16 and does not have enough money saved to buy a car. This leads us to the many common issues and problems in a blended family— fairness and equality. Paul and I, due to the difficult economy, are not in a position to help Mark buy a car and neither is Susie, Mark’s mother. When Sophia realized this she felt bad for her step brother and offered to help him get a car with the money she had saved that she did not need to use to buy her car. What an amazing, generous, thoughtful gesture on her part. We have a third car Mark can use until we can get the money together to help him get a car. In the mean time, it was so nice for Mark to know that his sister was looking out for him.
Published on September 28, 2009
Paul and I had a much needed very romantic, relaxing and wonderful weekend. We had both been so stressed between working hard, managing the kids and ruminating over very important decisions to make regarding our business. We’ve been on overdrive the past few months, usually working on Saturdays, running the kids around and maybe taking a few hours to ourselves on Sunday afternoon, which is not nearly enough time to completely unwind. This past weekend was much different.
On Friday afternoon Paul got a call from his friend Jack who lives in the South Beach section of San Francisco, right near the harbor and the AT&T stadium (formerly PacBell) where the San Francisco Giants play. He invited us to come up and stay on his boat in the harbor and we impulsively jumped at the chance. We packed an overnight bag (it was a no kid weekend) and by 3PM we were on the road to San Francisco.
The weather was gorgeous. It was the perfect Indian summer evening by the bay. It was just the two of us sitting alone sipping wine on the deck of the boat. We could both feel all of our troubles and worries melting away. We walked around the harbor for a bit, soaking up the atmosphere, smelling the salt air, listening to the sounds of seagulls and boats creaking, and enjoying the beautiful views. We ate dinner at the Acme Chop House, a lovely steak house and pregame hang out. Afterward we walked through Willie Mays Plaza and caught the last three innings of the game. The Giants lost, but we didn’t care.
We slept on the boat, dozing off to its therapeutic rocking and woke early the next morning to beautiful sunshine. Jack and his wife met us for breakfast at a cafe and afterward we drove home.
Saturday afternoon we picked up the kids from their other parents’ houses and took them to an Oktoberfest we are invited to every year. Friends of ours have a house on a lot of acreage out in the country and they host this giant potluck party every fall. Local bands play and several (I think 13 this year) home beer brewers come to enter the beer tasting contest. The kids all run through the woods and play and when it gets dark they light a huge bonfire and make s’mores. Hundreds of people come to this event. It is really special. Everyone had a great time.
The kids went back to their other parents and Paul and I had Sunday to ourselves. We took a long walk along the ocean and then came home and took a nap. Paul puttered around the yard while I made us a special dinner of leek, bacon and pea risotto. Paul grilled some salmon and I tossed a salad. When I came outside to see what he was doing, I discovered he had cleaned the outside patio, lit the outdoor fireplace and set up a cafe table in front of it. Candles were lit all around, soft music was playing and a glass of wine was waiting for me. Perfect.
We reminisced about how we first met 4 1/2 years ago and how we used to spend our kid free weekends like this all the time. Then we got married, remodeled our house, blended our families and started a business and got sidetracked from focusing on just us and our relationship. At the end of the evening I turned to Paul and said, “I think we got our groove back.” He agreed. We made a vow to each other to have a lot more weekends like this one.
Published on July 3, 2009
Eva celebrated her 13th birthday a few weeks ago; a milestone, benchmark birthday. I have another teenager. I asked her what special gift she would like to commemorate this momentous occasion and she said she wanted her father and me to take her to see a Broadway show in San Francisco and then have dinner at a really fancy restaurant. We took her to see Wicked at the Orpheum Theatre and afterward dined at Millenium, an upscale vegetarian restaurant in the lobby of the Hotel California. Both were outstanding.
I was touched by her request for dinner and a show because that is precisely what I did with my parents for my 13th birthday. They took me to see Angela Lansbury in Gypsy. I loved the theatre and at the time, dreamed of becoming an actress. I can still feel the goosebumps I got when Angela Lansbury made her show-stopping entrance. Eva, I am sure, had similar feelings of excitement. She had been asking to see Wicked ever since her sister Sophia had seen it in New York a few years ago. They both downloaded some of the songs on their Ipods. When I told Eva I got tickets she was thrilled. She wore the same new dress I had bought her for Valentine’s Day. She looked beautiful. When we got to the theatre, Jared, her father, bought Eva a commemorative program and a sweat shirt. We, as her parents, enjoyed our day with her. It is a day we will always remember and one I am sure Eva will too.